On Thursday we ventured up the M6 to visit the Gujurat Hindu Temple and Preston Buddhist centre as part of developing our subject knowledge about the Dharmic traditions.
At the Gujurat Temple, we were able to learn about the importance of the temple in Hindu puja (worship) and the significance and stories of some of the many gods that live there. Students ejoying asking lots of questions on everything from Hindu attitudes towards homosexuality to the belief in reincarnation and karma. Some were eagle-eyed enough to spot an image of the Buddha – raising interesting questions about the links between Buddhist and Hindu belief.
It was lovely to see Pagba on our visit to the Vajravarahi Kadampa Meditation Centre. As always, he was able to offer real insight into what it means to be a practicing Buddhist and how he was drawn to Buddhism and made the choice to become a monk. Some very deep philosophical discussions about the nature of ‘the mind’ were had!
The kamma appeared to be working against us as we battled against the gods of the M6. A few of the hardy year 2 undergraduates made it on the coach to the Coniston Priory and Manjushri meditation centre where we met our guide, Geoff.
We walked around the old house, a fantastic piece of 19th Century architecture, before rounding the corner to see the temple itself, a very simple, modern building. We removed our shoes and felt the warmth of the underfloor heating.
There are two foci of the temple, Buddha shakyamuni, and Geshe Kelsang Gyatso. Shakyamuni is pictured at the moment in India, when he achieved enlightenment. He is sitting in meditation pose, with the touching the ground mudra, Either side of him are two Rupas of his disciples, but they too are Buddhas.
Geoff explained how the movement started in the 1960s as people encountered Buddhism in the East and brought it back over to the West. We heard the story of how Geshe-la became the teacher and leader of the movement. He is now 83 and still completing his 22 volumes of Buddhist teaching. Over time the group, the New Kadampa Tradition became less Tibetan and Modern Buddhism developed. There are 1200 centres worldwide and Ulverston is the worldwide centre. At the summer festival around 3,000 believers speaking 52 languages gathered here, but there are larger gatherings in other centres.
Geoff spoke about his own practice, his life of meditation and study. And then we were able to join in with the 15 minute meditation class that takes place everyday at 12.30.
Geoff then spoke about the Lam-rim which are stages on the path to becoming a Buddha and how to overcome negative minds. They are part of the Mahayana tradition and so like to help others. After a few more questions, we looked at more detail at the statues, and Geoff talked about offerings, the seven traditional offerings which are represented by the bowls in front of the rupas.
To finish the trip, we headed off to the cafe for a little late lunch!
As part of the Second Year Undergraduate Buddhist Dharma module course students travelled to the Lake District to visit the Manjushri Kadampa Meditation Centre.
This is the head centre for the movement around the world and as described by our guide for the day it is where many Buddhists live together as part of their retreat. The New Kadampa Tradition (NKT) believe in the basic concepts of the Buddha and the traditional story that has been passed down through the generations. We were told that overall the original Buddha Siddhartha Gautama have over 84,000 teachings. The NKT are adamant that these teachings are still, if not more, important in today’s modern society.
As part of their Module on Buddhism with Francis, Year 2 Undergraduate students tke part in two field-trips. Here is Dominic’s thoughts about the recent visit to the Triratna Buddhist Sangha in Manchester:
Today was an insightful opportunity to learn more about a very much westernised branch of Buddhism. Our ordained Buddhist speaker began our tour by explaining about the key aspects of Triratna Buddhism and how it differs from many other Buddhist traditions. This is mainly due to the fact it has moved away from monastic, Asian traditions of clothing and not promoting the word of Dharma to people of the world. This therefore laid the foundations for my understanding of actually how far westernised Triratna Buddhism is. As you enter the Buddhist centre it is clearly apparent that opposed to just a place of worship this is a community centre which promotes spiritail along with health sessions to assist every aspect of your well being.
When speaking to the ordained Buddhist we covered various points regarding male and female communities, Triratna views on monogamy, marriage, Right Livelihood and even mental health. However one quote intrigued me greatly,
“give what you can, take what you need.”
This quote for me summed up the ethos of Buddhism and of the Triratna movement as a spirituality that wants to live a life of peace following the middle way.
We also learnt much about how the Triratna Buddhists practised Right Livelihood in a unique way compared to other Buddhist traditions. This was through opening various cafés and ethical businesses that seek to make a modest income and contribute to Post-modern Britain. Furthermore they run a lot of meditation sessions to provide social work and benefit those with mental health problems through mindfulness and loving kindness which were two key teachings of the Buddha.
To return back to the key aspects of Triratna Buddhism, it is useful to know that some members live in single sex communities in order to avoid distraction. Moreover, in terms of what attracts people to Triratna Buddhism in post-modern Britain, it is very much focused on rational questioning with a more rational attitude towards Dharma. This therefore fits more with modernity. Moreover they don’t present Dharma as a set of beliefs but infact present it as an enquiry which actually fits with the UK education system as we encourage children to question and enquire in their studies, especially in GCSE RE. Overall it encourages people to think for themselves and not just mindlessly follow as it is not a belief orientated path. The Buddha even asks us to look and see if things are true for ourselves.
Overall today was a very educational experience to learn more about a prevalent Buddhist tradition in our society. Moverover I very much look forward to carry on learning more about the Triratna tradition and Buddhism as a whole.
RE PGCE Trainee Marianne Howe reports back on her groups experiences at the Triratna Buddhist centre in Manchester:
On the 16th of October, the secondary RE PGCE group was given the opportunity to visit Manchester Buddhist centre. The day began at University with a Buddhist subject knowledge enhancement course led by our course leader Francis Farrell. This provided us with an in depth theoretical knowledge of Buddhist Dharma.
We started the session with a fun game entitled ‘What would make you happy?’ This engaged our curiosity and brought to the fore central themes which lie at the heart of Buddhist dharma. Questions such as would money and material wealth make you happy as opposed to the spiritual wealth of love and ‘peace of mind’ was raised. Distinctions between what exactly we mean by happiness started to form and stimulated rich philosophical debate and insight. In particular distinctions between ‘quick fix’ and fleeting feelings of happiness were discussed as opposed to more fulfilling and everlasting feelings of happiness.
Throughout this session, Francis provided us with an in depth knowledge and understanding of the basic teachings of Buddhism, which was explored through the lens of the original Buddha- Siddhartha Gautama. We discovered that the original Buddha primarily concerned himself with one of life’s ultimate questions- what is the meaning and purpose of life? Throughout the session it became clear that Gautama’s quest involved deep exploration and meditative insights into concepts such as happiness, virtue and what it means to lead a good, happy and fulfilling life.
Our new knowledge and wisdom gained from this session was brought alive when we visited the Manchester Buddhist Centre in the afternoon. Situated in the lively and bustling Northern quarter of Manchester, the centre itself had a calming and tranquil feel. Upon entering the building, it was hard not to notice the three jewels or refuges of Buddhism which caught your eye instantly. Consisting of the Buddha (the enlightened one), Dharma (the teachings) and Sangha (the spiritual community), it was hard not to feel the presence of these three Buddhist treasures upon entering the centre for the very first time.
Beautiful golden statues of the Buddha surrounded us (reminding us of the enlightened one and his teachings). The sense of community was also clearly felt. Before beginning our tour we had a spot of lunch in the centres earth café, situated in the basement of the building. The earth café provided a relaxing and comfortable atmosphere to refuel/recharge our minds and bodies before we began the official tour of the centre.
After lunch we made our way to the main entrance, and received a warm welcome by our tour guide, Garavachitta who is an ordained Buddhist of the Triratna order. Garavachitta informed us that the meaning behind his name refers to one whose mind has turned to reverence. Surprisingly Garavachitta was not dressed in the usual monastic orange robes you would expect a Buddhist to wear. Instead he was dressed in ordinary clothes- reflecting the centre’s modern, friendly and informal approach to Buddhist teaching. Bringing the ancient and mystical traditions of Buddhist dharma alive to the Western modern world.
After explaining to us the history of the building (the centre was once an old Victorian workhouse) and the various meditation classes/courses which are on offer at the center, we were led up a beautiful spiral wooden staircase to the second floor of the building. On this floor various meditation classes were taking place and we were told to be as quiet as possible. We were led into one of the main meditation rooms of the building and asked to take our shoes off before entering. A beautiful and awe inspiring golden statue of the Buddha awaited us.
We were asked to take a cushion and sit on the floor facing the beautiful shrine to the enlightened one or Buddha. Here we got the chance to find out more about Buddhist dharma and to also hear Garavachitta’s story/background- learning about and from religion. We were able to explore and experience first-hand. Buddhist dharma in an open and non-dogmatic way. The session ended with a calming mediation led by Garavachitta. This was a wonderful opportunity to experience Buddhist meditative practice and fully absorb/assimilate our previous learning & knowledge. After our mediation we had the chance to do a spot of shopping and browse all things ‘Buddha’ in the centre’s shop- from books to incense sticks, and mini Buddha statues.
This informative and enlightening trip provided us with deep subject knowledge of Buddhism- it awakened our consciousness & awareness of Buddhism and provided invaluable ideas/resources to bring the RE classroom alive! On a personal note, Buddhism for me has truths that speak to everyone irrespective of religious persuasions or not. The truths and insights offered by this religion are ones that I can not only value but also carry with me on my own journey of personal development, insight and awareness of how to live a happy, fulfilling and meaningful life.
Year 2 Undergraduates have been out to visit two different communities of Western Buddhists. The first visit was to the Manchester Buddhist Centre where Munisha explained Buddhism from a Triratna perspective. Formerly known as the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order, the group see themselves as reinterpreting Buddhism for modern Western Buddhists
The second visit was to the New Kadampa Buddhists in the Manjushri Buddhist Centre in Ulverston. This form of Buddhism, whilst still aiming to make Buddhism accessible to Westerners, still retains many of the traditional elelments of Buddhism – maroon and golden robes for shaven headed manks being an obvious example.
These visits are an essential part of the undergraduate course and allow students to prepare themselves both for the end of module assignment, but also for teaching this dharmic religion in schools.
Part Time primary trainees from Edge Hill recently explored creative learning in the gallery, using the cultures gallery in the World Museum Liverpool. They took part in a Hindu and Buddhist story telling workshop and used the artefacts as a stimulus to create their own interpretations. In groups they re-enacted and the devices that support oral tradition to ‘perform’ their stories on the gallery floor.
Term has started early at Edge Hill, with our annual Subject Knowledge Booster Course. This course was originally funded by the TDA to help those with non-Theology or Religious Studies degrees enter RE PGCE courses. We at Edge Hill found these courses to be so useful that we have continued them after the central funding has stopped – so that Edge Hill PGCE students can have an advantage at the start of their course. These free courses have proved so popular that even graduates with Theology degrees now attend and find them hugely beneficial. This year was another first as two students who will be joining our Undergraduate Secondary RE course via our fast-track route have taken the course to improve their subject qualifications.
This nine day course is jam-packed with a day focusing on each religion, beginning with a lead session in the morning led by academics from Edge Hill or other institutions such as Paul Walsh from Newman University College and Professor David Waines of Lancaster. The afternoons entail a period of paired research and a final plenary session. The highlight of the course is a field trip to Preston where students visit a Hindu Mandir and a Buddhist Centre in the morning and in the afternoon a Mosque and Muslim High School. The final assessment is a portfolio of research notes and a paired presentation on one of the six major world faiths.
We’re glad to say that everyone found the course fantastic fun, as well as a great way to Boost their subject Knowledge before starting their QTS courses!
Experiential learning through visits to faith communities continues to be an integral feature of the course, not least because we hope our trainees will develop their own RE network from the experiences. We are fortunate to have such a rich and culturally diverse resources with so many faith communities in our region.
In December we visited the Manchester Triratna Buddhist centre and were warmly welcomed by Richard, the new education colleague in Clear Vision. We enjoyed some rich philosophical debate and discussion with Richard, exploring Buddhist perspectives on the origins of the universe and whether a first cause is necessary to explain the fact there is a universe in existence. I couldn’t help thinking these debates were reminiscent of the Buddha’s dialogues with the Brahmin sages of his day. Richard summed our lively debate up nicely, “It was a blast!”
From the Buddha’s dharma we switched emphasis to Judaism with a visit to Manchester Jewish museum. If you’ve not been before, it’s well worth a visit, especially because your pupils will be able to handle artefacts in a grade 11 listed Sephardic synagogue. It’s a visual and kinaesthetic treat and will really convey the richness of Jewish culture in a way a text book simply can’t achieve.
We followed up this exploration of Judaism with David Arnold in February who gave us his personal perspective on the joy of living as Jew from the wonderful setting of Stenecourt Schule. David explored complex aspects of the Jewish faith as a way of life, examining scripture, prayer, symbolism and Shabbat. David summed up what Judaism really means to practitioners with this analogy, which I think really captures what religion means to believers of all traditions,
“Just as a book on anatomy can’t convey what a body really is, a text book on Judaism can never capture the meaning of Judaism- it is a way of life”
Year 2 trainees enjoyed an enlightening visit to the beautiful Triratna Buddhist centre (22.11.12) gaining the insider’s perspective on what it really means to live as a Buddhist in 2012. Our speaker, Munisha,(Clear Vision) offered us a very warm welcome and a much appreciated brew, before telling us the story of the Manchester Buddhist centre. We then experienced the peace of the main shrine room, which demonstrated how calm surroundings produce more peaceful states of mind. After a fascinating Q/A session we were left with a deeper understanding of key Buddhist values, especially right livelihood and the importance of spiritual friendship. As always Munisha made the perfect host, thoughtful,open and generous in her responses to trainee questions. Everyone said how much they enjoyed the session and we only wished we’d had more time for more questions! I’m sure that the visit will result in future RE school trips when our year 2 trainees become RE teachers.
I thoroughly enjoyed the visit and am already looking forward to the PGCE visit in December. After enjoying such good company this morning, it seems appropriate to finish with some words of the Buddha:
“The company of the wise is joyful, like reunion with one’s family.Therefore, live among the wise, who are understanding, patient, responsible, and noble. Keep their company like the moon moving among the stars” [Dhammapada, 15: 207-208]